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Egypt Grapples with Anti-Israel Sentiment

  • Elizabeth Arrott

The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has raised questions about the Islamist leaders' commitment to the peace treaty brokered with Israel 30 years ago.

President Mohamed Morsi has pledged to honor the deal, despite the brotherhood's long opposition to the Israeli state.

"Definitely the peace has to be based on justice, OK, but Egypt is in no position right now to get into conflict with anybody," says Amr Darrag, a senior official in the brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party. "As a responsible political force, we respect all the commitments of the state with others, whether we like it or not, at the times these commitments were made.”

As a sign of how unpopular the peace deal is among Egyptians, even such hedged promises draw criticism, not just from Morsi's fundamentalist rivals, but also from his secular, liberal opponents.

"Part of the criticism to Morsi is that he has proven himself a bit too pragmatic to many of us," says political activist Wael Khalil. "This is the brotherhood who...this is central to politics. This was most central thing to their politics, the question of Palestine, the question of occupation.”

The issue is central to Egyptians across the political spectrum, according to Khalil.

"It is a passage to politicization of many of us," he says. "I was politicized on the Palestinian question, the street protests and the opposition to [former president] Mubarak started in solidarity with the uprising, the second uprising intifada in 2000 and 2002.”

Khalil concedes some Egyptians interchange the ideas of anti-Zionism and prejudice toward Jews.

Prior to his political rise, Morsi was videotaped making anti-Jewish slurs, which he now argues were comments critical of Zionism.

Despite a once-thriving Jewish community in Egypt, both sentiments now appear deeply engrained.

Former intelligence officer Sameh Saif al-Yazal says politicians know that all too well.

"That's a card that lots of people play," al-Yazal says. "When you attack Israel, then you get a reputation in the street. The people, they do that in Egypt because of that.”

But al-Yazal argues practicality trumps rhetoric, pointing to frequent, close contact between Israel and Egypt on economic, military and political matters.

"Forget about what you see in the newspaper and what you hear on the TV," he says. "The reality is that the two countries are doing normal, just like in Mubarak's time.”

Like Morsi's liberal and conservative critics, al Yazal agrees little has changed with Israel since the Islamist leader came to power, nor does it appear likely much will anytime soon.

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